And while Muslims are currently more conservative on issues such as tolerance of homosexuality and the rights of women, their views are vastly more liberal than in their countries of origin – and tend to align with Western views in the second generation. As far as identifying themselves as Muslims first and Canadians (or Americans or Britons) second, they say this about as much as devout Christians do. And they express loyalty to their home country and its secular institutions at the same, sometimes greater, rates as native-born citizens.
This is not entirely a rosy picture. Muslim immigrants in some places – notably Britain – are lagging behind in cultural integration. Like Jewish and Catholic immigrants before them, they are experiencing pockets of isolation and conservatism, and the economic effects of discrimination and lack of fluency. Anti-semitism and obsessions with the Middle East are far too popular among the second generations in many countries.
But what we see is not a vast historic exception, rather a repeat of the pattern followed by earlier religious-minority immigrants.
Eating kebabs in London
That is all well and good, you might say, but what about the suicide bombers? Islamic extremism in the West remains a serious threat, even if it has diminished from its peak a decade ago.
Here, too, we have a new understanding. A number of very large new studies of the views and motives of terrorists and extremists – including an expansive one by the British intelligence agency MI5 – has confirmed what terrorism experts have long believed: That extremism is a political movement, based on territorial ambitions (specifically, a belief in the inviolate “land of Islam”) not rooted in the religious beliefs of the wider community.
Over and over, we find that those driven to extremism are not very religious and not very tightly linked to their surrounding immigrant communities; they tend to be middle-class loners, often with criminal histories. The most devout, while culturally conservative, are the least politically extreme.
What does distinguish Islamic extremists in the West is their belief that “Islam” and “The West” are distinct and separate entities that should never meet. This belief in a clash of civilizations, ironically, is the one thing that unites Islamic extremists with the “Muslim tide” authors and politicians. Christopher Caldwell, Thilo Sarrazin and Melanie Phillips all express admiration for the strength and coherence of Islamic “civilization” and despair for what they see as an overly secular West. Mr. Breivik was an outright admirer of Osama Bin Laden. And no wonder: What unites the ideologies of al-Qaeda and of the “Eurabia” and “Muslim tide” writers is a common belief that there is one creature called “the Muslim” and another called “the Westerner.”
Yet there is no such distinction. Muslims are adopting the universal values of our society in the same way (not always easy) as other religious minorities.
The shisha bar and the kebab shop are becoming part of Western culture, much like espresso and Yiddish expressions – but there is no threat to our core values.
If we believe that our culture is so weak that it can be threatened by a small group of generally poor and vulnerable immigrants, then what is it worth?
That became apparent in London. I soon realized, as I came to know the Pakistanis and Turks around me, that they and their children are the principal victims of both of these political ideologies. Islamic extremism is a threat to Muslim families. The “Muslim tide” literature, and the distrust it provokes, only amplifies this threat. We need to fight back against both of these dangerous belief systems.